“Trump the Vote” event raises questions of politics in Jacksonville parks
| Florida Times-Union
The presence of a “Trump the Vote” sign the size of a garage door during a recent rally at Southside Park for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is raising questions about how the city of Jacksonville regulates political activity at its parks.
The large sign showed a photo of President Donald Trump and the Trump-Pence campaign logo. The Oct. 24 event was organized by the Republican Party and linked to a statewide campaign urging early votes for him. The city parks department issued a permit on Oct. 20 for use of the park.
The city’s ordinance code says it against the law to “place or install a political sign or advertisement on public property.“
Asked whether the “Trump the Vote” sign being on a city park violated that provision of city law, city officials said they would look into the question but did not have a response to the question by the end of the week.
City parks are generally free of political activity but they are not completely off-limits to election-related events.
“Parks can be utilized for campaign activities as long as they comply with city requirements for events in parks as well as local campaign laws,” city parks director Daryl Joseph said in emailed answers to Times-Union questions.
In the closing weeks of the this year’s election season, the city issued special-use permits for what the parks department categorized as “get out the vote” events at Southside Park and at Lonnie Miller Park.
The permits for Lonnie Miller Park in northwest Jacksonville covered four days over two weekends and the event at Southside Park in San Marco was on Oct. 24. The Republican Party of Florida applied for the Southside Park permit.
The “Trump the Vote” rally at Southside Park caused Erica Connor, manager of Donna Deegan’s campaign for Congress, to say it was infuriating that the parks department told her Deegan, a Democrat, couldn’t use a city park as the site of her campaign kick-off in 2019 but Republicans got a park permit for their event.
“I have no problem if the rules are the same for everybody,” she said. “It’s either you can or you can’t.”
The city does not have policies in writing for campaign activities at city parks.
“As we do with all parties and groups, we provided guidelines to ensure compliance with regulations and permitting,” city spokeswoman Nikki Kimbleton said.
The city also issued a special use permit for groups staging Souls to the Polls events at Lonnie Miller Park on the weekends of Oct. 24- 25 and Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
The Souls to Polls events were organized by non-profit groups to encourage Black voters to vote early.
Siottis Jackson, who filed for the Lonnie Miller Park permit, said that as part of the permitting process, the parks department provided a “campaign laws acknowledgment” form that says “When the event is taking place, there should be no signs or banners erected, placed or installed on city property.”
The acknowledgement form showed the section of the city ordinance code that forbids political signs or advertisements on city property.
“I know campaign signs aren’t allowed inside a public park,” Jackson said.
The Souls to the Polls event did have large “Free the Vote” and “Vote to Live” banners at it.
The city also issued a special use permit for a voter registration drive at Riverside Park on Sept. 12. Marcella Fussell, who filed for the permit, said the drive was aimed at getting young residents registered and didn’t have any campaign signs at it.
She said her packet of information from the parks department did not include the campaign laws acknowledgment form.
On Sept. 24, Duval County Democrats had a news conference in James Weldon Johnson Park. A sign attached to the podium for that news conference said “Biden Works for Florida” in reference to Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president.
City officials said they they were not aware of that news conference at the park and there was no paperwork related to a permit.
The Duval County Supervisor of Elections office provides information to candidates that says it is “unlawful to place political signs on public property.” The city’s municipal code compliance division enforces the ordinance.
In the days leading up to the “Trump the Vote” event, the Republican Party of Duval County used its Facebook page to invite people to “come out Saturday morning and show your support for President Trump” at Southside Park before heading to the nearby San Marco library’s early-voting site.
The Facebook postings described it as a “Trump the Vote Early Voting MAGA Event,” a reference to the president’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan.
The sign used at Southside Park had a number for people to text in connection with voting. The campaign for Trump’s re-election has staged Trump the Vote events around the state.
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